Meeting Resistance, a documentary releasing May 20 from First Run Features, reveals a wholly different narrative about the Iraq War than the one portrayed by many in the mainstream news. In the only-slightly-redacted first-person-plural statement below, co-directors Molly Bingham and Steve Connors talk about their movie, which will be reviewed later in the month:
Meeting Resistance is about the people and make-up of the Iraqi resistance. Since it was released in theaters last fall, we have shown the film in more than 80 U.S. cities, as well as to several key military audiences. We’ve made more than 200 appearances with the film to talk about our understanding of the conflict in Iraq and take questions from the audience. When the lights come up, we are greeted with the kind of silence associated with people trying to reconcile what they thought they knew with what they now understand. We’ve come to realize that our film is delivering a paradigm shift about the Iraq conflict — one audience at a time.
There are two wars in Iraq, and Meeting Resistance explores the first war — the popularly supported resistance to occupation, which contains the majority of the organized violence that is happening in Iraq. Using primary source material, critical analysis and cross-referencing, we crafted a film that tells the story of that conflict. The second war is the civil war — an internal political struggle being waged over competing visions of Iraq’s future, of which the country’s sectarian violence is a symptom, not a cause. Meeting Resistance is a journalistic documentary, not an advocacy or polemic film. Although we did not set out to challenge the narrative of the Iraq conflict — the one that has been constructed in Washington — our reporting eventually led us to do so.
U.S. military briefings in the Green Zone during 2003 and 2004 told journalists that the violence against American troops came from “dead-enders” and “Ba’athi die-hards,” from common criminals, religious extremists, foreign fighters, and al-Qaeda — characterized as “fringe elements.” While some might fit some of these descriptions, the vast majority of those involved are citizens from the core of Iraqi society. In time, we came to see the U.S. military’s misnaming of the “enemy” as an intentional act — as a key part of their objective to control the “information battle space.” They aspire to control the perception of the enemy’s identity, and through the news media persuade the American public that these “fringe elements” of Iraqi society are the only ones who oppose the U.S. presence in Iraq. A military push (or surge) to isolate and eliminate them would accomplish a perceived “victory.”
The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq delivered to the White House in October 2003 was leaked in February 2006 by Robert Hutchings, the 2003-2005 chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Speaking in interviews, Hutchings revealed that the report said that it is composed of nationalists fighting for their country with deep roots in the society and that the U.S. military, if it remains in Iraq, will be fighting a counterinsurgency war for years to come, a conclusion that echoed what we had found in our on-the-ground reporting for Meeting Resistance.
This spring, a front-page investigation by the New York Times revealed the Pentagon’s well-oiled “briefing” system for retired military analysts who are working for TV outlets and writing op-eds in ways that reflect and amplify the U.S. government’s narrative. The reporting done by the Times underscores the critical importance the Pentagon ascribes to its efforts to control the “message,” including how it defines the enemy.
If the predominant narrative about the Iraq conflict was truly based in reality, it would involve pointing out that the majority of Iraqis want a withdrawal of all foreign forces, and that the Department of Defense’s quarterly reports to Congress, on average, show that from April 2004 to December 2007, 74 percent of significant attacks initiated by Iraqis targeted American-led coalition forces. Americans would also find out that half of registered marriages in Baghdad in 2002 were mixed marriages between Sunni and Shia, Kurd and Arab, Christian and Muslim, and many of the tribes and clans and families are, in fact, mixed between Sunni and Shia. Also, nearly all of the Arab Iraqis polled oppose dividing the country along ethnic and sectarian lines, and the vast majority demands that Iraq have a strong central government, not the decentralized powerlessness imposed by the American-influenced constitution.
It is not that these points have never been reported, but the booming voice of “disinformation” — from which the Pentagon wants the American public to view the conflict — drowns much of this information out. Ultimately, our film has helped reveal the success of the Pentagon’s strategy to obscure the real nature of the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, too many in the news media have been willing to allow that to happen. Throughout the world’s history, there have been occupations — and resistance to those occupations. Why then do Americans have such a difficult time grasping that our troops are unwelcome by the vast majority of the Iraqi population? And why has reporting by our mainstream news media generally failed to recognize and draw our attention to this central, core aspect of the violence?